I am beginning to have issues with my husband over parenting. Our oldest is in 10th grade and he is starting to branch out more socially, and is finding new groups of friends. I think this is great, and don’t mind if he focuses a little more on his social life and a little less on his schoolwork. This is the time in his life to enjoy himself.
My husband, on the other hand, thinks very differently than me. He wants to be on top of everything our son is doing. He wants to know who he is with, what he is watching, how much work he got done, etc.
I don’t mind being flexible and agreeing with me husband, except I really think he is wrong. I think a child needs to start making his own decisions to learn from his mistakes. So I do not give in to my husband, but I see our son is starting to get frustrated as we try to figure out what’s allowed and what’s not.
Dear Perplexed Parent,
This is a very common issue that most families have, and I commend you for reaching out to try to figure this out.
So the answer is: You are both right.
You are right that your son needs to start to make his own choices and learn from his mistakes. And your husband is right to watch over him to make sure that your son doesn’t make mistakes that could mess up his life.
Now you two have to figure out a chord to strike in the middle. This chord doesn’t have to be the same for every situation, but it has to be pretty much unified each time.
Figure this out beforehand by yourselves. While you two differ, it is imperative that you find some sort of common ground. This should be done in advance and away (and out of earshot) from your son. If you are having difficulty striking a compromise, try starting with a different type of discussion. Don’t find any solutions yet. Instead, share what your childhoods were like, and why it is important for you to have the stance that you have. The hard part of this conversation is to actually hear your spouse. Picture your spouse as a kid and understand what worked or what didn’t work to make them who they are today.
Of course, this could get a little dangerous if we spill our own childhoods onto our kids. End this discussion by talking about what you think your son’s personality is like and what his individual needs are.
On a later date, sit down and try to figure out your joint style. Some things to keep in mind are:
- Safety first. This means ensuring your son is physically safe in the here and now. That includes curfews and Internet filters. It includes helmets, seat belts and doing your very best to make sure he is not inhaling, consuming or imbibing any illegal substances.
- Respect the other. How does this look? If your husband already told your son he may not go out with his friends unless he comes home by 8pm, and you think he can stay out until 10:00, make sure that you enforce 8:00 as if it were your opinion as well.
- Consistency. Whatever expectations and rules that your son is picking up on must be consistent. This simply means that the kid should be able to know what to expect in a given situation. In order to do this, there must be follow-through. That means if you say the consequence of something is that your son loses car privileges, you must follow through with that (even if that means that he’s missing his best friend’s big game).
And that goes for the positive as well. If the child is promised something nice, there needs to be follow-through to make sure that child gets it.
- Encourage independence within your framework. Whether you are more restrictive or more permissive, either way you should encourage your son to make his own choices within the framework of what you allow. This sounds like, “No, unfortunately you may not go to the punk rock concert this Sunday. What would you like to do instead?”
- No secrets with your kid. It is uncomfortable when you and your spouse don’t agree on what’s allowed and what’s not. Even worse than uncomfortable though, is when one parent keeps a secret with the child against the other parent. I have come across a parent who was not telling her husband that their child was attending a co-ed college. Imagine how confusing that is for the child, and what a betrayal that would be to her husband should he find out!
And don’t forget to work on showing love to your son. As a teen, he will roll his eyes and push it away, so find ways to sprinkle in love that he can appreciate.